CSUN women’s water polo: A tougher schedule signals continuing success for Matadors

Monique Muñiz

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Attacker Melissa Doll (4) goes for the ball as Sydney Sonoda (14), prepares for a pass in a practice scenario. CSUN's water polo team is preparing for the 2011 season. Photo Credit: Misael Virgen / Photo Editor

After an emotional end to last season that resulted in defeat at the Big West Tournament championship game against nemesis UC Irvine, the Matadors are looking toward a fresh start.

The Matadors women’s water polo team, who ranked No. 9 in the nation at one point, are now in the process of rebuilding and preparing themselves to get back to the Big West championship.

“The fall was spent incorporating the freshmen into the system,” said head coach Marcelo Leonardi, who’s “interim” tag was removed in June. “Now in practice, you can tell the fall was beneficial and the biggest thing was going back to fundamentals and making sure all the girls were on the same page.”

The players’ top priority is defense, where they ranked first in the Big West conference last season. With the absence of Kirra Kylander, Kristin McLaughlin and All-American Jillian Stapf the team will have to make adjustments to keep the defense at the top.

“They’re not here so we have to work harder,” senior Chelsea Curran said. “Especially with Jill (Stapf) being gone, our defense needs to be on and more crisp.”

The Matadors will be on the road for nine games to start the season, which the team said won’t be on its mind.

“I think we play better when we are away to be honest,” senior Sydney Sonoda said. “We play better in a bigger pool and being away we bound with each other.”

The team will head to Ann Arbor, Michigan., this weekend where they will face No. 8 University of Michigan, No. 13 Indiana, No. 6 Loyola Marymount and No. 2 UCLA. For Leonardi, this year’s schedule tougher, but said this will only help the team.

“It gives us an opportunity, to one see where we are at, and two how much work we need to progress toward conference play,” Leonardi said. “It is a great learning experience and plus I think we are still good enough to go out and compete against those teams.”

Leonardi has changed a couple of things, but his expectations are still the same for his team.

“I want to win a Big West championship and this is the first time we can go to the NCAA championship,” Leonardi said.